April, 2002

April 1, 2002

I suppose I ought to create some elaborate April Fool's joke. Unfortunately, I don't have the energy. It's 9:30, and I just got back from yet another frustrating class. What makes it particularly frustrating is that we had such a good training week on all these behaviors. He has really made a lot of progress on all of them. You just wouldn't know it by the way he acts in class.

Anyway, here's the first-of-the-month picture. He's really getting big! I've had a couple of people comment on it in just that last couple of days.

April 2, 2002

Just a quick note -- took Pax to the vet today and weighed him. Six days shy of his six-month birthday, he is 50.9 pounds. He seems to be growing at a very consistent 10 pounds per month. I wonder how long he'll continue that rate? His adult weight should be between 85 and 100 pounds, with most of the growth done in the first 12-18 months.

Oh, here's an odd thing I don't think I've mentioned. For three nights in a row last week, Pax threw up in the middle of the night. He had multiple "episodes" each night, and he would throw up several times during each episode. I was really getting worried. Twice I said, "If he throws up once more, we're going to the emergency clinic." I called the vet after the second night, and after I said that everything else was normal -- food going in, food coming out, activity level -- he said to just keep an eye on him. That was Saturday morning, and they were booked until this morning (Tuesday). Okay, fine. As I said, after the third night, he stopped doing it, and otherwise he has been normal.

Well, yesterday morning I took Rain to the chiropractor, and I mentioned to him that Pax had been sick. He told me to bring him in for an adjustment. I was surprised, and he explained that chiropractory isn't just about the back -- it's a form of alternative medicine. So I took him in today, and sure enough -- Pax was sensitive exactly where he said he would be. Fascinating. Yes, Pax had already stopped throwing up, so I won't be able to see a difference directly like I did with Rain. But it certainly won't hurt him, and oddly enough, I feel better knowing something is being done.

It's lunchtime, and the boys are hungry. Pax doesn't get to eat out of a bowl anymore. He now works for every bite of food. It sucks to be an adolescent.

April 3, 2002

Pax is in daycare today, but I wanted to give an update after Pax's first day of "Nothing In Life Is Free." It went great -- and I didn't even feel guilty about it. I don't think it was particularly tough on him, though he seemed a little confounded when I required him to do a couple behaviors before I'd even pet him. He wasn't terribly thrilled with the idea of working for every bite of his lunch either -- even though I chose an easy behavior (targeting) for him to do. Once he figured out I wasn't giving in, he got into the spirit. Throughout the day we did lots of short sessions, before I would play tug or retrieve, before I'd pet him, before a walk (and of course, during), before he was allowed to jump out of the car. By the evening, he had the new rules down, and he was responding much more quickly and willingly.

A bit of success... We took a walk during the afternoon and went further than we'd ever been -- covered quite a bit of "strange" territory alongside busy (distracting) roads. He was GREAT! Then yesterday evening we took a trip to PetSmart to buy him a new collar. He had moments of distraction, but I was amazed at how quickly I got him back. It doesn't help, unfortunately, that people bring their dogs over to greet him without asking. It's not that he's unfriendly -- it's that he thinks he's free to greet anyone who comes to see him, so I'm instantly forgotten.

There was this guy there with a 9 month old pit bull (way overweight) on a big prong collar and a FLEXI. Flexis require the dog to pull, which is what prongs are supposed to stop. He was letting the guy straining at the leash (on the prong) to greet other dogs. Okay, recipe for disaster. "Gee, every time I try to greet a dog, I get hurt. Grrrr. I don't like dogs." People create dogs who are on-leash aggressive by letting them lunge to greet when on prongs. The guy was totally clueless -- and his pit is going to pay the price. God forbid it become dog aggressive -- the breed will be blamed for this clueless owner's mistake!! Sigh.

I assume Pax will want a little attention tonight, so I'll run him quickly through his class behaviors in exchange for some cuddles. He won't want much -- he's always exhausted by his romps at daycare. He was awesome this morning -- I was so proud of him. He sat every time he wanted attention from me and was even calm and polite when I got his breakfast out of the fridge.

April 5, 2002

Nothing spectacular is going on. I just wanted to give you an update of how Pax's first few days of Nothing In Life Is Free are going. So far, it has been a resounding success! I thought I would feel guilty, and I thought he would feel abused and neglected. Nope! It's exactly like people had told me -- he settled right in to the new rules. He's more responsive -- but not desperate at all. I love it.

We're making progress on his behaviors for class:

  • Shake -- His favorite. Always accompanied by joyful mouthing.
  • Push the box -- We're getting movement now instead of just touches. Of course, it was a bit frustrating when Rain got the whole "push the box" idea down with a single click.
  • Touch the stick -- Easy. We don't work on that much anymore, though I should keep it fresh since I'l use it for go outs later.
  • Through the hoop -- Making good progress. He is going through it without hitting it with his feet with it held a couple of inches off the ground. Not hitting it with his feet is a key part of the shaping. I expect I could hold it up fairly high and get him to jump through it, but I need him to figure out that he needs to be clean (and safe).
  • Back up -- Better than it has been. I can stand up, and I don't have to drop the treat between my feet. I still have to lean into him a bit to get the back up. That's okay. At least we're making some progress.
  • Bow -- I keep forgetting this one, so we haven't been working on it. I have a hard time getting him to bow without dropping into a foldback down. To help, I've been clicking earlier and delivering the treat forward and away so he has to get up.

We're going to PetSmart in a few minutes. It's his lunch time, so I'm going to take him and all his paraphernalia for class and let him earn his lunch in the PetSmart parking lot.

I've realized lately that I didn't do a good enough job socializing him as a pup. He's still skittish of new people, particularly if they reach for his head. I'm going to use "touch the hand" to help get him used to being near new people. He's good at targeting my hand. Next I'll transfer that skill to Jay's hand. Then Debi's. Then Diana, the instructor of his class. Then maybe the students in the class. Then strangers who are willing to help. I'll start by having the person extend their hand so he won't have to be too close to the scary stimulus. Then gradually, I'll direct the person to bring his hand closer to his body. Once Pax is comfortable targeting close to the person's body, we'll click and treat for letting people touch him.

April 6, 2002

Pax and I had such a good training session today. This week I started using Pax's lunch time as training time, having him work for every bite of his yummy hamburger. (He gets 14oz. -- just shy of a pound -- so that's a lot of reps!) Yesterday I took him to PetSmart during lunch, and we worked in the parking lot (mostly) on the behaviors he is doing for his class.

Today I took him to PetSmart at lunch again. PetSmart on Saturday is a whole different place. Tons of adults, children, carts, and dogs of every description in every combination going in every direction. Pax's sit has recently gone completely to pot, so I decided to work on that. (I mean it has totally disappeared -- I haven't been able to *buy* a sit a from him.) I started doing pop sits in heel position -- just taking a step or two and then stopping and asking for a sit again. Lo and behold, <grin>, he figured that out and started offering automatic sits. Lots of hamburger for that.

Gradually we moved closer and closer to the door, and the distractions started getting thick. So I began reinforcing him for holding the sit when particularly scary things went by us. He was great!! He quickly figured out that remaining seated and looing at mom, no matter what was going on, earned him lots of hamburger. We went inside, and I purposely chose different high-distraction areas to work in.

He was great until just about the bottom of the bag. At that point, he kind of lost it. I'm not sure whether I had pushed his attention span or just filled his belly. Maybe both. We left then. I was so proud of him though. He even held the sit (a couple of times) when strangers came up and petted him. Even when he didn't hold the sit, he was much more relaxed about strangers petting him than he usually is.

What a good boy! Maybe tomorrow we'll go to Home Depot....

April 8, 2002

Pax and I had an awesome class tonight. He was like a different dog -- Diana really noticed a difference. He was much, much more able to stay in the game and concentrate. And he had made so much progress on most of the behaviors. Next week is the last class. Yikes! I have to teach Pax to spin this week -- that's our mystery trick, and we have to demo it next week. (Oops.) I was so proud of him tonight. The NILIF has really paid off. Also, I fed him his dinner for lunch and saved his lunch to use in class. That meant he was both hungry AND had a favorite, high-value food to eat.

What a good boy. He's six months old today, by the way.

April 23, 2002

Holy cow! My best friend called to tell me I'd been lax in keeping up with my diary, but I didn't realize it had been *this* long!

Pax's last clicker class (in that session) was last night. It was interesting to see which behaviors he did better with. At final evaluation...

  • Push the box. He loved this one. It really took him a while to get this in the beginning -- even simple targeting. That surprised me. But once he really figured out that I wanted him to interact with the box, we shaped the push fairly quickly.
  • Back up. I had trouble teaching this one. It took me a long time to figure out a way to get the behavior without him immediately dropping into a sit. I realized last night that he was actually offering a couple of steps without any body cues from me. That's a huge breakthrough, I think, and if I kept working on it, I have no doubt we would be able to shape additional steps very easily.
  • Shake. Pax was super successful with this one. We had it on a verbal cue with no physical prompting within the first couple of days.
  • Sit up. This was a funny behavior. When I worked specifically on teaching it, I had very little luck. In fact, he was so reluctant to sit up that I couldn't even get him to sit! So I quit training it. But then, when we were working on shake, he added it as a part of shake. The whole routine we've chained is shake with the left paw, shake with the right paw, then sit up and beg. He *does* prefer to balance against my legs though.
  • Jump through the hoop. Pax was doing well with the hoop --- really well. I only had it a few inches off the floor because I don't want to subject his still-growing bones and joints to repetitive, high-impact training. Diana wanted us to fade the hoop and replace it with a hoop made by our arms. I had been using a hula hoop, and my arms make a much smaller hoop, so I was gradually reducing the size of the hoop available. That was working well. I tried using just my arms on the last night of class, but that was too big a jump in criteria.
  • Touch the stick. Pax is great with the target stick. I used it to teach him to circle counter-clockwise, which was his mystery trick. We never got his mystery trick on a verbal cue, but he did perform it with a hand signal.

We had one super success last night that I have to brag about. We finished early, so we took off all the leashes and had free play. Much fun. This is a large building, and I was at one side chatting with someone. Pax wandered away on the other side of the building and found someone's supply bag. Smart dog that he is, he went looking for treats. Diana saw him, and said, "Hey, Pax!" I looked up, spotted the trouble, and said, "Pax, come." He *immediately* swung away, ran through the middle of the pack of cavorting dogs, and ran right to me. Diana was totally wowed.

That recall came in handy this morning as well. Jay and a friend were loading a truck out front, and one of us left the garage door open. Jay realized Pax was out when he saw him in our neighbor's yard -- the corner yard on a very busy street. I called him, and he came to me, and I made a big fuss all the way to the kitchen for some yummy hamburger. You better believe I'm paying off big for that!!

Anyway, that was the end of his intro to clicker class. Diana offers both competition obedience and agility classes. Both are taught in baby steps, and she will make sure that my puppy does only puppy-appropriate things in the agility classes. (No weaves, no jumping.) Since we're going on vacation in May, I'll wait a month before contacting Diana about starting a new class.

In the meantime, I pulled out Sue Ailsby's class progressions. Counting the entry level (which isn't a class but a list of pre-requisites), there are eight levels which culminate in a utility-level dog. Each level has a very specific test for each behavior that must be passed. I'm starting with the entry level behaviors with Pax. He has a start on all of them, but I want to solidify the verbal cueing on a couple of them before I "test out" and move on to level one.

So here are my current goals and where Pax is right now...

  • Touch. He has to touch my hand with his nose on a single cue. He will do this now, *but* he's doing so by default. I want to put the behavior on stimulus control before I consider it "passing."
  • Sit. He has to sit from standing on a single cue, no additional body language. Pax will do this when he's in training mode. When he's not, it can take several requensts before he'll sit. I need to strengthen the response before I consider this passing.
  • Down. He must down from a sit or stand with no more than two cues. We're cool on this one. His down is terrific.
  • Come. The dog must play the Come Game between me and another person standing 20' away. Done. Recalls are his forte.
  • Zen. He must stay away from a treat held in my hand for five seconds on one cue given before the hand is presented. I want my hand to look the same when targeting and when doing Zen. That means both behaviors have to be under stimulus control. He can do the Zen for two or three seconds now, but it's not under stimulus control.

April 29, 2002

Pax had (very) minor surgery today. He had what the vet identified as either a wart or a button tumor on the inside of his right ear. The vet gave him a shot of Demerol and used a local anesthetic -- the procedure didn't take but a few minutes. Not even any stitches. The vet is going to send the tissue to a veterinary pathologist to make sure it's nothing to worry about. He doesn't think it is, but we always want to be sure.

I've been working on the behaviors I mentioned last time. Mostly I'm working on touch and leave-it (Zen). It's challenging, because the physical cue is identical -- I give a verbal cue and then extend my fist. He either touches it with his nose or turns his head away from it. He tried getting around the cue discrimination by simply hesitating -- if I clicked, he was right to leave it alone; if I didn't click right away, he would touch to get the click.

That didn't work for long though. I changed the criteria. I give the cue and present the hand, and he has only a second or two to do the behavior. If he's going to get it right, he has to listen to what I say and choose the right behavior. He's definitely making progress. I'm not going to increase the duration on the leave-it behavior until the discrimination between "touch" and "leave it" is solid. Duration will be a snap to add at that point.

We leave on our vacation on Friday. I'm probably not going to introduce anything new until we get back. I've been fretting about the trip. Pax hates riding in the car -- always has. If he thinks he might have to go, he hides at the back of his crate. He was better when he rode in the back seat of the station wagon instead of the very back. *If* we can pack lightly enough, I might be able to (safely) split the luggage between the back seat and the very back and let the dogs ride separately. We'll just have to see. My list of junk to take seems to grow by the minute!


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